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Opinions of Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Columnist: Nelson Kofi Akatey

Promoting the ideals of Farmers Day

The 2015 edition of the National Farmers Day being the 31st edition has been officially launched, paving the way for preparations towards the organisation of the event in December. Bolgatanga, the capital of the Upper East Region will host the event for this year which is on the theme: “Transform Ghana: Invest in Agriculture”.

The choice of theme reflects the important role the agriculture sector plays in the scheme of national affairs, particularly with regard to the economy. The theme also signifies a clarion call on the private sector and industry to invest in the sector which is considered as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy.

Growth of agric sector

Records indicate that the agriculture sector, being the main stay of the national economy, has recorded significant growth over the years, although it is estimated to be operating at 40 -50 per cent potential. In 2013 for instance, the records indicate that the grain harvest, including maize, recorded 1,023,459 tons and millet 160,819 tons. Groundnut recorded 328,940 tons, cowpea 161,966 tons, and soyabean 84,774 tons.

For the starchy foods, the agriculture sector recorded 875,185 tons of cassava, cocoyam 193,998 tons. There is every indication that considerable potential, therefore, exists for further development and growth of the food crop sub-sector for both local consumption and export.

In order to continuously boost agriculture production to ensure food sufficiency and security in the country and to cut down on the huge expenditure on the importation of food and related agricultural products yearly, successive governments have over the years initiated policies, programmes and interventions in the agric sector to achieve these objectives. In 2002, the government, through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, launched the “Eat what we grow” campaign to encourage the production and consumption of local foods.

Operation feed yourself

One also recalls the “Operation Feed Yourself” campaign initiated in the 1970s by the then head of state, Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, which became a flagship programme for the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. One other intervention rolled out a couple of years ago which is making significant improvement in the agric sector, contributing to increased food production is the introduction of the national fertiliser subsidy programme in 2008/9.

The objective was to make fertiliser accessible and affordable to farmers, especially the small holder farmer. Since then, the programme has been rolled out successfully each year. The national fertiliser subsidy programme was introduced to address the low fertiliser application rate in Ghana which was considered as one of the lowest in Sub-Sahara Africa. The application rate was estimated at 8kg/ha in Ghana compared to 20kg/ha in sub-sahara region, 99kg/ha in Latin America and 109kg/ha in South Asia.

It was realised that the low application rate was as a result of mainly the high cost of fertiliser which most farmers could not afford. But with the introduction of the programme, the fertiliser has become more affordable, accessible and within the reach of the farmer. In recent times, the implementation of the Ghana Commercial Agriculture Project (GCAP) through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture to boost food production has been quite encouraging.

The GCAP programme has provided a lot of technical and financial assistance to operators in the agric sector, most often grants. Indeed, all these programmes are driven by the quest to develop the agriculture sector. Developing the sector means making it better and more profitable, less expensive venture and more rewarding to the nation and all those involved in the value chain. It is the sector that cuts across every other sector.

Modernised agricultural system

The agriculture policy of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture over the years is driven by the vision to have a modernised agricultural system for the country that results in food security and employment opportunities that will translate into poverty reduction. The development of the Food and Agriculture Sector Development Policy (FASDEP) in 2002 was, therefore, to facilitate and spearhead this process. However, this can only be achieved if there is a conscious and deliberate effort to invest in the sector.

Obviously, the agriculture sector is the largest source of employment in the value chain to thousands of the country’s population. It provides a secure food supply, the source of raw materials to industry and indeed a major foreign exchange earner for the country. There is no doubt about the fact that the annual celebration of the national Farmer’s Day since it was instituted in 1985 has put a lot of smiles on the faces of many farmers, especially the small holder farmer no matter how small the award. It shows that his/her effort has been recognised and appreciated.

Award package

From a humble beginning, the award package now includes a three- bedroom house for the national best farmer, pick up vehicles for the runners-up and a lot more attractive offers, courtesy the corporate organisations. The districts are not left out. One may, however, think that the sector is all about a bed of roses. Certainly not, there are challenges.

The demand for food globally in recent times has risen sharply as a result of increase in population and urbanisation. There is also the problem of the destruction and pollution of the environment which greatly affect arable farmland and the fishing industry. There is also the issue of technology application and the continuous availability of inputs and other accessories to increase food production and productivity globally.

Ghana is no exception. But suffice to say that most of these challenges are being addressed. As the nation prepares to celebrate yet another event, one needs to also recognise the support and contribution of corporate institutions and organisations over the years.

The 2015 edition promises to be yet another exciting one come December and it is the expectation of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture that all will lend a hand to make the day worth celebrating and memorable, saying ayekoo to our farmers and fisherfolk.